Four residents of Cayman Brac appeared in Summary Court on Tuesday for sentencing in connection with firearms charges.
The firearms were a 12-gauge shotgun, a .410-shotgun, a .25 semi-automatic pistol and ammunition, all taken during a residential burglary at The Bight in November 2003.
Andre Marcus Nixon, 21, and Raul Phillip Walton, 19, were sentenced to one year imprisonment for the burglary and two years for possession of unlicensed firearms.
Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale emphasised that the sentences were to be consecutive, for a total of three years. To enter a premises to steal is one thing, she pointed out; to steal to possess an unlicensed firearm is another.
Both had pleaded guilty.
Charles Ronald McLean, 28, and Thomas James Sevik, 24, had pleaded not guilty to charges against them, including possession of the unlicensed firearms. They were convicted after trial in Cayman Brac and remanded in custody, along with Nixon and Walton.
The court found McLean guilty of taking part in the burglary by driving Nixon and Walton to and from the scene. Sevik was guilty of handling stolen goods.
On Tuesday, attorneys for these two agreed that social inquiry reports would be beneficial and sentencing was postponed.
The magistrate indicated that she preferred to sentence all four defendants at the same time because their matters were so closely related.
Defence Attorney John Furniss advised that Nixon’s family had incurred the expense of flying over from Cayman Brac the night before and had used up holiday time from their jobs to be present.
Defence Attorney James Austin-Smith, on behalf of Walton, also urged the court to proceed that day.
On the basis that each defendant would be sentenced separately in light of his conduct before the court, his assistance and any previous convictions, the magistrate agreed.
When the trial had concluded on the Brac, Mr. Furniss mentioned family members’ concerns about the recent amendment to the Firearms Law that created a minimum sentence of ten years.
The magistrate concurred with him that the Criminal Procedure Code restricts the Summary Court to a maximum sentence of four years, unless expressly provided for (such as in the Misuse of Drugs Law). The Crown had chosen to keep the matter in Summary Court rather than carry it to the Grand Court, where the mandatory ten years would have effect.
Early in the sentencing hearing for Nixon and Walton, however, she pointed out that she could impose four years for the burglary and four years for the firearms, ‘so we’re looking at a maximum of eight years.’
The attorneys then spoke in mitigation.
Mr. Furniss said Nixon had gone to the house purely to remove what he perceived to be a threat to him and the only things taken from the house were the firearms. They were then placed in the boot of an abandoned car. Later the firearms were placed elsewhere by other people.
The magistrate said that people in possession of an unlicensed firearm must expect custodial sentences. She quoted from an authority stating that firearms in the wrong hands at best frighten people and at worst kill them.
Mr. Furniss handed up a letter from the owner of the guns, indicating that the man had accepted Nixon’s sincere apology.
He also asked the court to hear from Nixon’s cousin, who, on oath, told the court that the defendant had changed over the past two years. He had formed a good relationship with the mother of his young child; he had stayed calm when another man was aggressive toward him; he had been home every time the cousin checked on him.
Nixon’s mother spoke of his difficult youth, being pushed from pillar to post because she had to be out working day and night.
On behalf of Walton, Mr. Austin-Smith told the court, ‘The boy who committed those offences is not the same person as the young man before you today for sentencing.’
The reason for going into the residence was the threats Nixon said he had received. Walton and Nixon went in and took the firearms away. Walton had no further involvement. ‘This was possession in the briefest possible sense,’ the attorney argued.
He emphasised that Walton had made admissions at the police station when questioned and had entered his guilty plea almost two years ago. Since then, the matter had been hanging over his head.
Mr. Austin-Smith asked the court to consider that, when these offences were committed, there was a totally different sentencing climate in Cayman. Now the entire approach was different.
Walton had a troubled background, but since this incident had moved on in a spectacular way. He had references from employers indicating that he was a hard worker with a positive attitude who had excelled in his training and helped with the massive clean-up after Hurricane Ivan.
The main mitigation was what Walton had done since the incident, Mr. Austin-Smith concluded.
Responding to the argument that Walton’s possession of the firearms was transient, the magistrate pointed out that he had broken into the house and put those firearms into the community. Three firearms and ammunition were dangerous.
If you think a man is going to shoot your friend, you report it to police, she told Walton. No one can take the law into his own hands and break into someone’s house.
The tariff for residential burglary is 18 months, the magistrate continued. She had weighed many things in arriving at sentence, including the guilty pleas.
Nixon had given assistance in court and Walton had not. But Nixon was the instigator and Walton the follower. So the various factors balanced out and the magistrate said she would treat them the same.